Woman hopes her experience with hair-pulling disorder will help others

EDMONTON – It’s a disorder that causes people to pull out their own hair, usually starting in childhood, and continuing through adulthood.

It’s estimated that trichotillomania affects about two to five percent of the general public, and those are just the cases psychologists know about.

Kelsie Hanna was diagnosed with the disorder when she was five.

“You’re basically kind of trapped in your own body and your own mind saying, ‘stop pulling, stop pulling, stop pulling.’ And you can’t — until finally your arm goes numb, or your wrist hurts or whatever the case may be. And finally your body just kind of gives in and makes you stop.”

Trichotillomania can be triggered by anxiety, but many do it in their sleep. Psychologist Dr. David Sinclair explains that it’s part of a group of disorders.

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“So body-focused, repetitive behaviours — and they include picking at your skin and things like that,” he said, adding that treatment starts with behavioural therapy.

“We’ll help them to learn to use alternative behaviours and to increase their awareness of when it’s starting to happen — so when they’re starting to reach, they might clench their fist.”

Hanna has tried everything — from medication to acupuncture to hypnotherapy. She says cutting out sugar has helped.

Now she’s trying to help others by running a local support group.

“So many people are suffering in silence, and they’re very uncomfortable with themselves. They have extremely low self-esteem, from depression to over-anxiety.”

She hopes removing her wig, showing the bald spots that hide underneath, might also remove some of the stigma.

“Maybe if I could help one person just feel not alone, then I’ve done my job, right?”

For more information on Hanna’s “Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour” support group, email her at

You can also learn more at the Canadian support network:

With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News